Imagine you are standing on a shore
where night sky shades imperceptibly into noctilucent sea. Familiar two-dimensional
surfaces—the glassy sea, the hemispheric vault of the sky—are illusions. They each
contain vast depths, and they each host unknown and unseen creatures. The shore
is a boundary between knowledge and ignorance, dreams and reality. The macrocosmic
and the microcosmic face each other as a mirror.
Below, an incomplete periodic table
symbolizes the process of science. We look for patterns in nature in a process that
began when the first civilizations began the track the cycles of time in the sky.
Scientists work with fragments of knowledge and infer the whole: an extinct creature
from a few scattered bones, the history of animals from 1% of their bones that are
fossilized, the commonality of life from overlapping scraps of DNA. The power of
science lies in its projective capability. Newton used the orbits of a few planets
to infer the motions of galaxies that would not be discovered until centuries after
his death. The periodic table is universal. Stars are made of the same ingredients
as the Sun, and if planets around some of them host life, it will be made of the
same stuff as we are.
Curving crystals draw us in, and
place us at the center of the scene. They are the primeval forms, perfect and Pythagorean,
five in number to represent the Platonic solids or the moving objects in the night
sky or the Greek elements. We are looking out; the curved surface might be our cornea
or the lens of an early telescope. Nested spheres allude to mathematical harmony,
to Dante’s cosmology, and to the onionskin of knowledge. They move outward in time
like the growing bubbles of light that surround every star. They’re etched in languages
that speak the history of science: the Greek of Plato’s Academy, the Latin of Copernicus
in his book that shook and displaced the world, the Italian of Galileo as he communicated
science to everyman, the English of Newton as he explained the enigma of gravity,
and the German of Einstein and the other physicists who explored the bizarre quantum
behavior of the “world within the world.”
The forms are timeless yet modern.
A flat horizon conveys infinite extent and posits the Earth as both the beginning
and end of the universe, but by breaking the plane clock crystals refer to Einstein’s
curved universe and his coupling of space and time. Back to the core theme, comforting
boundaries melt away. The straight edge of sea is the limb of a curving planet,
with no up or down. There is no sheltering sky and the air shades smoothly into
the complete vacuum of deep space. Greek philosophers flinched at the idea of a
universe with no edge, or an edge yet nothing beyond the edge. The universe might
be boundless, limited by time and not space, our view defined by the distance that
light has traveled since the big bang. All we see may be only a tiny of fraction
of all that there is.
About the Artist
Heather Green is a graduate student in the College of Fine Arts at the University
of Arizona and a second generation Tucsonan. Her current work is informed by her
lifelong relationship with the headland of La Cholla near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico,
a passion for old science books, and her love of the natural world. She has designed
exhibits about sustainable fisheries and materials for conservation initiatives,
and is currently developing a virtual museum about La Cholla.